Acoustic Energy AE1 MKIII - £2,000

Acoustic Energy gives its traditional substantially built miniature a classy cosmetic makeover

Acoustic Energy’s 1988 debut with the diminutive and defiantly pro-look AE1 caused quite a sensation when it first appeared and effectively launched the brand. This £2,000 per pair MkIII is the middle model of three current variations on the same tiny two-way theme.

Unlike the much less costly Classic with its ‘utilitarian’ pro-style presentation, this MkIII’s piano black enclosure has some seven layers of high-quality lacquer finish, while the front panel is decorated by a 10mm-thick, shaped and polished aluminium sheet, reinforcing the baffle and concealing the driver mounting hardware.

As the substantial total weight of 11kg implies, the exceedingly hefty build continues beneath the surface. The rear-ported enclosure combines 12mm MDF backed by 5mm steel plates, secured by a damping adhesive and with a tensioned cross-member bracing the sides apart.

Although the MkIII’s small (130mm) metal cone bass/mid drive unit with its point integral dust cover looks very like the original AE1 unit, this deep-anodised hyperbolic-shaped alloy cone is, in fact, significantly thinner and, therefore, represents a break with tradition, abandoning the original’s metal dome in favour of the fabric annulus (‘ring radiator’) device from a Scandinavian supplier. High-power capacitors and radio metal-cored inductors are used to achieve a superior quality crossover network. PTFE-insulated single strand silver wire is used internally and signal is applied via a single pair of good-quality WBT multi-way socket/binder terminals.

SOUND QUALITY

Last of the group to be presented to the panel, there was considerable surprise when the curtain was finally dropped to reveal the smallest model in our test group by a considerable margin. The fact that the little AE1 MkIII also scored the highest marks overall, is confirmation of the vital role an enclosure plays in the total sound of a loudspeaker and evidence of the advantage possessed by a small loudspeaker of heroic construction.

There are down sides of course – there always are. The listening tests attempt to equalise perceived levels as far as possible and naturally this low-sensitivity model requires rather more amplifier power than the others and this will affect the practical maximum loudness too.

There was criticism of some bass end ‘thump’ too and of limited tonal discrimination at the bottom end, but the overall impression of warmth and richness was quite convincing and no panelist accused this speaker of sounding small or undernourished.

The midrange here is quite exceptional – smooth, neutral and evenhanded, with vanishingly low levels of cabinet coloration and notably superior space, air and delicacy. Vocal reproduction is clearly a class act, especially with the massed voices of a choral piece. Imaging too, received widespread praise for its depth and precision. Dynamics might, perhaps, have been more vigorous, but the very ‘quiet’ enclosure ensures that low- level information remains clear and the dynamic range is wide.

While there’s no denying that this is a costly speaker for its size, it does undoubtedly deliver the goods sonically, with fine clarity and neutrality, superior imaging and a surprising impression of scale and weight.

LIKE: Lovely midband smoothness, with superior image focus
DISLIKE: Bass can thump a bit and lacks subtle detail
WE SAY: Neutral with low coloration through the midband, though the bass could be improved

DETAILS
ORIGIN: UK
WEIGHT: 11kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 185x310x250mm
FEATURES:
• 10mm aluminium baffle reinforcement
• Enclosure-lined with steel plates
• Lightweight anodised metal cone
• Scandinavian-sourced annulus tweeter
DISTRIBUTOR: Acoustic Energy
TELEPHONE: 01285 654432
WEBSITE: acoustic-energy.co.uk